Hayden's cutbacks churn a wave of anger

February 13, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden's blitzkrieg of budget cuts didn't give residents time to ponder the closings of their libraries and senior centers in advance.

Now they're pondering and, from the sounds they're making, the toughest part of the process may be ahead for Mr. Hayden and other elected officials.

"I'm outraged! We weren't even warned," Mary Poehlman, president of the Hillendale Improvement Association, said of the sudden closing of both the Loch Raven library and senior center.

In her book, Mr. Hayden's chances for re-election just took a nose dive -- "if he's foolish enough to run."

Mr. Hayden spent five long, secretive months examining county government, picking out jobs and services to cut and combine.

Many of the cuts involved obscure positions and departments that most residents never see and probably won't miss.

But some were highly visible. And when Mr. Hayden announced the cuts Thursday, they were immediate. There were no hearings, no appeals.

Several of the communities affected are starting to organize protests. Activists in Lansdowne, Turners Station and the Pikesville area are working on rallies, meetings and mail and telephone campaigns.

They're also looking for alternative ways to reopen their facilities.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hayden took a beating from some county legislators in Annapolis yesterday when he showed up to explain his cuts to them.

Lawmakers who once said that local cuts are local government problems suddenly were not at all pleased about libraries, senior centers and health centers being closed in their districts.

What seemed to irritate the most, several said, was the total lack of notice -- the inability of the public or elected officials to discuss in advance the layoffs of 392 workers and the closing of nine libraries, four senior centers, two health centers and a day care center.

From opposite ends of the county, Essex Del. Leslie Hutchinson and Catonsville Sen. Nancy L. Murphy, both Democrats, criticized decisions to cut services in their relatively low-income areas, instead of cutting more in wealthier neighborhoods.

"Some of the cuts are good," Ms. Hutchinson said, but closing a day care center in Essex that serves poor mothers struggling to get off welfare is not.

"It was handled very poorly," she declared.

Senator Murphy made the same point about Lansdowne. "It's outrageous to cut where we have the most need," she said.

A few defenders, including Mr. Hayden's fellow Republicans, Dels.Martha S. Klima and John J. Bishop, said they, too, were unhappy about the cuts.

They represent the Loch Raven area, which lost its library and senior center.

But they said that Mr. Hayden had to make difficult choices in an era of tight money and public unwillingness to provide more.

"They don't want any more taxes," Mr. Bishop said of county voters.

Legislators who complained the loudest "must have been living in caves the last two years," he said, referring to the recession and reductions in state aid to the county that totaled $83 million.

Former Democratic County Executive Donald P. Hutchinson gave the cuts mixed reviews.

While he said that closing storefront mini-libraries "made perfect sense," he questioned shutting branch libraries in relatively poor, isolated communities such as Turners Station and Lansdowne, which, he said, need "extraordinary services."

"You got a bunch of upset people," said school board member Dunbar Brooks, a Turners Station native.

The isolated African-American enclave in Dundalk lost its tiny library and also feels threated by cutbacks in recreation supervisors and maintenance personnel at the Fleming Center. A community meeting is scheduled for Tuesday night at the Fleming Center.

Mr. Brooks said the community owns the library building and that volunteers could man it on a part-time basis if the county would leave the books there.

Lansdowne activists, in the far southwestern tip of the county, are planning a rally Monday evening at their closed library on Third Street, said Teresa Lowry, one of the community leaders organizing the event.

The Lansdowne activists, who learned of the impending cut before the official announcement, met with Mr. Hayden last week to argue that the government placed hundreds of subsidized housing units in their area and now has a responsibility to provide needed services.

The plea didn't work. But the Rev. Steven P. Girard, pastor of the St. Clement Roman Catholic Church, said he felt it was important that Mr. Hayden heard the community's case, and was hopeful about more county help in the future.

The political damage Mr. Hayden may have done himself is a question that won't be answered until the next election in 1994.

Some, including north county Republican Del. Robert L. Ehrlich, thought the damage would be minimal. But others noted that Mr. Hayden has closed senior centers in a county with a large elderly population, chopped popular recreation workers and libraries, and fired 392 county workers after two years of furloughs and no pay raises.

And all this after he pushed successfully for higher local income taxes last year.

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